a review from the red room

There’s a glittering review of Thaliad at the book blog Tomcat in the Red Room. Tom writes with a depth of knowledge that deftly contextualises the poem by explaining its literary precedents, and yet offers his insights with such a light touch that any reader, no matter how new to narrative poetry, will feel safely guided through the unfamiliar territory.

Marly has recently been canvasing for suggestions as to how Thaliad might best be described, and Tom has surely added to her shortlist with his summary of it as a ‘mythopoeic epic poem’. Click on the above link to read his review of Thaliad. As a little taster I offer here an extract from it about my contribution.


‘It would be remiss of me at this point not to mention Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who as well as designing the book’s cover, has illustrated small iconographic vignettes that head each of Thaliad’s twenty four chapters (note: the same number of books divide The Iliad).  These striking black and white collages definitely influenced my conception of Thaliad’s world, and the grey-tone in which they’re rendered acts as a satisfying visual call-back to the descriptions of ash and rubble that dominate much of the poem’s imagery.  As well as being unusually beautiful, Thaliad’s artwork is loaded with symbolism and connotation.  The image that heads chapter twenty three, for example, depicts two of the children (now fully-grown) fighting over Thalia.  The icon itself is a silhouette-esque depiction of two men locked in combat, with their swords provocatively placed so as to resemble the positioning of erect phalluses in a way that alludes to the lust that is the deeper subtext and reasoning behind their combat.’

 Tomcat in the Red Room

An anecdote: the late, great Lizzie Organ, who ran the Kilvert Gallery in Clyro and was the first person to show my work, once surprisingly announced… surprising because it was apropos of nothing at all we’d been talking about…  “Clive, I always look for the penises in your paintings, and I never fail to find them.” I replied “Sorry Lizzie, you mean the penises in the paintings of nudes?”  “No, I mean in all your paintings. In the still-lifes, in the landscapes, in every one there’s a penis, and moreover an erect one!” Her partner Eugene Fisk looked aghast. “What on earth are you talking about Lizzie? There are no penises in Clive’s landscape paintings.” “I beg to differ, Euge…” Lizzie shot back, “… they’re in all his paintings and I always find them.”  Bewildered silence from Peter, me and Eugene. “I don’t know why you’re all looking at me like that.” she exclaimed, before bringing the subject to a close with her final word on the matter: “I like them!”

15 thoughts on “a review from the red room

  1. As you know, Clive, I am very proud of the works of yours that hang in my study. I am going to look at them MUCH MORE CAREFULLY, and with renewed interest! I have had a sudden memory of Liz, Catriona and Angela sitting together drinking whisky at Kinnersley Castle, with the candlelight gleaming on red, blonde and black hair. xx

    • Oh my, now that was a night! One to remember. (I recall how naughty you and Catriona were when you got together, and I had to get all headmasterly, which just made you both worse!) Speaking of which, we met up with Charles Shearer for his exhibition opening at MoMA Wales last year. He put on a great show.

      Apropos of ‘penises’, I picked up the Lund Humphries monograph this morning, just to casually browse and see what I could find, and before I even got the book open I spotted one on the cover. No, really, I promise you it’s there. It’s upside down, but there are testicles too! Knock me down with a feather, Lizzie was right!!!

  2. I loved that review! He picked up so many different threads and talked about them in such an interesting way. (Phil’s socks and Lucy: good news!)

    Oh, I remember the stories about Lizzie Organ’s funeral–with the piper and a horse in peacock plumes and flower girls and a dog in the pew.

    • Ahhh, yes. Lizzie in her funeral barque arrayed in embroidered finery, a queen in state adorned with barbaric jewellery. The vicar’s astounding black standard poodle sitting in the back pew, the curls of its ears framing a face quite as patrician and aloof in demeanour as Edith Sitwell’s. I watched through a window as the horse in funeral plumes was led by its groom in a stately pavane around the church. Lizzie so loved her horses.

  3. Me too Lucy, it’s my new favourite game!

    My lovely hardback copy of Thaliad arrived just before Christmas, fantastic, Marly’s writing blows my socks off! Your illustrations Clive are just perfect with the text, nobody else could have done them, so strong and so poetic

    • Thank you Phil. The book was a pleasure to work on from start to finish. No angst at the outset, no sleepless nights trying to figure out how to best serve the text. It came into the light fully-formed, like Athena out of the thigh of Zeus! Ha ha!

      Lizzie would approve of your new favourite game!

      Now go and put your socks on or you’ll catch a cold!

  4. Fantastic review, thanks for finding it and sharing, Clive! I’m relieved that my dismal knowledge of the classics and other related literature did not matter for I enjoyed Thaliad very much. Bravo to you and Marly!

    (Had a hearty chuckle on the additional anecdote!)

    • Thank you Marja-Leena. It gives me the greatest pleasure to hear of readers enjoying Thaliad. It was eye-opening to discover what a page-turner a post-apocalyptic epic narrative poem could be, which is not something you get to say every day! I’ve read it repeatedly, dipped in many times and I’m about to read it again. It rewards on every level. Brava to Marly. I’m delighted to have been her interior decorator. I usually only get to be a cover-boy!

  5. The closest I got to “knowing” Lizzie was attending her funeral… yet, after that occasion I felt that I HAD known her, and I can clearly hear her voice making this pronouncement about the penises. ; )

    • That was quite a day wasn’t it Anita? Memorable for all the right reasons, with the exception of course that it was her funeral. I miss her still, and always will. Lizzie was a force of life that enhanced the world. Would that there were more around like her.

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